Monday, May 12, 2014

OIC employees earn awards for their work

Two OIC employees will be honored for their work on behalf of Washington state.
Rebuilding OIC's financial examination program has earned Patrick McNaughton a 2014 Governor’s Award for Leadership in Management.
McNaughton is the chief financial examiner, based in our Seattle office. He manages 23 credentialed examiners who are responsible for auditing 45 domestic insurance companies, 90 charitable annuity issuers, and certain public entities, such as the state Health Care Authority. 

 “Pat was instrumental in rebuilding our financial examination program,” said Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “Financial exams are conducted to ensure insurance companies in Washington honor the promises they make. The impact of a well-regulated insurance industry cannot be overstated in terms of our state’s economy. Washington’s $28 billion insurance industry impacts virtually every adult, family, and business in the state and provides about $500 million annually for the general fund.”
McNaughton’s work enabled the OIC to regain accreditation by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, and helped create a new system of risk-focused financial analysis and examination. 

McNaughton will join other award recipients at a luncheon with Gov. Jay Inslee on June 3. 
Detective Bennie Hamilton in our Special Investigations Unit (SIU) received the 2014 Community Relations/Partnership Award from the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS). The Olympic Mountain Chapter of ASIS recognized Hamilton due to his outreach and partnership development with scores of insurance companies, other private companies and public sector agencies that combat fraud. Due to these efforts, Hamilton has successfully worked hundreds of criminal insurance fraud cases resulting in numerous convictions for theft, attempted theft, filing false insurance claims, forgery, perjury and other offenses. Hamilton is a 35-year law enforcement veteran in Washington state, serving the past seven years with SIU.

“Bennie’s work has made a difference to Washington consumers,” said Kreidler. “It is fitting that Bennie received this award during Public Service Recognition Week, because the work he and his colleagues do every day is worthy of recognition. This award also embodies the nature of the work we do through SIU, which relies on partnership and collaboration with law enforcement, other governments and insurance companies to combat fraud and protect consumers in Washington state.”

SIU identifies and investigates for prosecution criminal organizations and individuals engaged in fraud schemes that target the insurance industry. Partnerships with insurance industry professionals and a variety of private and public sector entities and individuals are critical for success in combating fraud while protecting consumers.

Friday, May 9, 2014

OIC is hiring analyst to review health plan filings

We are hiring a Functional Program Analyst 3 in our Tumwater office to review health insurance policy forms to ensure they comply with state and federal laws and requirements. This position plays an important role in making sure health plans meet Affordable Care Act (ACA) and other requirements and working closely with the insurance companies that file their plans with our office each year. This position works with other health policy analysts in the agency and our legal division.

This position works in our Rates and Forms division and reports to the Health and Disability Manager, which we are also hiring.

We are looking for candidates who have a bachelor's degree and at least two years' experience in government regulation, insurance, insurance code, or experience with the ACA. We will start reviewing applications on May 19.

Read more about the position or apply at

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Climate change taken seriously by government, insurers

Doubters of the science on climate change and its effects on the nation and in the Pacific Northwest should be chastened by the third U.S. National Climate Assessment that the White House released this week.

It’s noted as the most comprehensive scientific assessment of climate change and its effects. Changes in snowmelt, more wildfires, rising sea levels and more findings are included in the assessment about the Northwest. The news is sobering.

But as Gov. Jay Inslee notes, efforts are being made in Washington to mitigate climate change -- reducing carbon emissions, investing in renewable energy, boosting fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and constructing buildings that use less power, among other things.

The insurance industry long ago determined that climate change is real, as noted most recently in the 2013 climate risk survey of over 1,000 insurers in Washington, California, Connecticut, Minnesota and New York.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler is chair of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners working group on Climate Change and Global Warming. This group regularly reviews how climate change affects insurers and the way they do business.

While Commissioner Kreidler maintains a continuing focus on reforms to the nation’s health care system, he’s also been a longtime advocate of protecting the environment for future generations. Insurance has a role, as he mentions in an article he wrote for the United Nations.

Read more about Commissioner Kreidler's work with climate change.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Ride-sharing businesses cause confusion among consumers, drivers

Ride-sharing through Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), including Lyft, Uber and Sidecar, are causing a stir nationwide from an insurance perspective. These services are available to consumers through a smartphone app and allow drivers in certain cities to use their personal vehicles to give people rides, like a taxi.

A handful of states have issued consumer notices about these companies, including California, Hawaii, Ohio and, most recently, Connecticut. The debate revolves around when drivers and passengers are covered in a collision. Most personal auto policies have an exclusion for “livery,” which means times when drivers are being paid to transport people. In that case, the drivers would need a supplemental policy to cover the commercial use of their vehicles.

Today, a TNC called Lyft announced it is partnering with MetLife insurance to “develop insurance solutions that further protect Lyft’s drivers and passengers when utilizing this new sharing economy platform.” However, that’s about all the information that appears to be available at this time.

The TNCs advertise their own liability policies for drivers. Here’s an example from Lyft: “The Lyft platform now provides drivers with excess liability insurance up to $1,000,000 per occurrence.” Uber seems to offer a similar policy. Sidecar offers a little more information on its site, including a disclaimer that its $1 million policy “is liability only and does not provide coverage for collision, comprehensive, or wear and tear damage to a driver’s vehicle.”

Lyft is available in Seattle and recently announced it is expanding into Spokane. Uber is available in Tacoma, Seattle and Spokane. Sidecar is available only in Seattle. 

This issue is sure to stick around as more consumers start using ride-sharing services. The Seattle City Council is currently considering how to regulate TNCs. You can read about one Seattle blogger’s experience with Lyft when he was involved in a collision.

If you have a problem with an insurance company, you can contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or online.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Unlicensed jewelry service contract company makes things right with OIC

Zale Delaware Inc., a company connected to Zales Jewelers, Gordon Jewelers and Piercing Pagoda, and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner recently agreed that Zale would pay $300,000 fine and more than $290,000 in unpaid premium taxes for unauthorized sales of service contracts for jewelry repairs. Companies pay a 2 percent premium tax on all service contracts, which is deposited into the state’s general fund. All disciplinary fines are also deposited into the state’s general fund.
Zale sold more than 425,000 jewelry service contracts worth $14.5 million to Washington consumers from 1999-2013 without being licensed. Washington state law requires that all service contract providers be registered with the Insurance Commissioner; the law took effect in 1999 as a way to protect consumers. Zale self-reported to our office that it was selling the contracts without being licensed, and it agreed to suspend further sales until it could comply with state law.

Like insurance companies, companies that sell service contracts assume a certain level of risk and it’s our job to make sure they are able to provide consumers the service they paid for when they purchase the contract.

Noteworthy in this case is that the company approached our office in order to comply with state law. Often, we find out about unlicensed service contract sales from consumer complaints. It is unusual for a company to approach us in the interest of following the law. Zale agreed to pay the fine and the premium tax within 30 days.

Before you buy a service contract, you can make sure the company islicensed to sell contracts in Washington.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Health insurers' proposed 2015 rates due today

Today is the deadline for all health insurance plans that are sold in Washington to be filed with our office. All health insurers must file their individual and small group health plans and rates for plans sold both inside and outside the Exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder. The review process will likely continue through the summer.

The rates will be available to the public 10 days after the filing is determined to be complete by our office – most likely on May 10. Consumers can sign up to receive an email when the rates are posted on our website. You can select one just company or all of them. If you sign up before May 10, you will receive an email alert once the new proposed rates are posted. And you’ll get an email once we’ve made our decision.

We also have information about how rates are reviewed and frequently asked questions.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

OIC seeks innovator who wants to help implement ACA statewide

OIC has a unique job opening in our Rates and Forms Division as a Health and Disability Insurance Forms/Contracts Manager (WMS Band 3). The position reports to the Deputy Commissioner for Rates and Forms, which is the division that reviews insurance plans and rates.
This is an exciting opportunity for someone who wants to work on the cutting edge of Affordable Care Act implementation in Washington state. We need someone who can lead a team of expert staff; work closely with people in the division who review rates and provider networks; and who understands insurance and contracts. The person in this position needs to be innovative and adaptable.
Here are a few of the position’s duties, as outlined in the job announcement:
  • Serves as the statewide expert on health and disability forms filings.
  • Plans and directs the review and approval or disapproval of health and disability contracts submitted by regulated entities; analyzes filing data to discover complaint trends or patterns of unfair, inequitable or unlawful insurance practices; prepares files and recommends referral of such practices for enforcement action.
  • Attends and participates in assigned and agency training to enhance requisite skills and knowledge needed to supervise professional staff.
  • Represent the OIC on a local and national level, attending NAIC events, speaking on behalf of the agency, and providing leadership on work groups and task forces.
We are requiring:
  • A bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree.
  • Expert knowledge of insurance products.
  • Expert knowledge of the insurance code and related rules and case law related to insurance products.
  • Extensive experience analyzing contracts, and providing effective oral and written communication.
  • Five years' supervisory experience of professional-level staff.
The salary will depend on qualifications, with a maximum of $80,000 per year.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Consumer tip: Don’t toss notices from your lenders

If you get a notice in the mail from one of your lenders – whether it be auto, boat, home or any other item you are paying for with a loan – make sure you read it. Lenders can require you to prove the item they’ve paid for is insured against damage or loss with an auto, homeowner or other applicable policy.

If you fail to prove the item is insured, the lender has the right to apply its own insurance policy, called “force placed” or “vendor’s single interest (VSI),” to your loan. The policy doesn’t protect you against property loss or liability—its sole function is to pay the lender the loan balance if you default on the loan. These policies are very expensive, they are added to your loan balance and you pay interest on them. One consumer was charged $2,680 for a policy on a $15,000 loan—that’s nearly 18 percent of the loan, not counting the interest the consumer paid.

The good news is that lenders typically allow you to drop the policy once you prove you have your own insurance on the item.

Don’t get stuck with a huge insurance cost that could have been prevented. When you get notices in the mail from a lender, read them. 

If you have questions, contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or through our website.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Did a medical provider refuse service based on your plan? We want to hear from you!

Our consumer advocates in recent weeks have heard from a handful of consumers that medical providers have refused to see them because they purchased health insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder, our state’s health benefit exchange. The consumers reported a couple of scenarios:
  • They scheduled an appointment with a medical provider. The provider’s office later canceled the appointment because they say they are not accepting insurance that was purchased through the Exchange.
  • Consumers contact providers listed as being in their network to find out if new patients are being accepted, and are told yes. The provider’s office later calls the consumer and tells the consumer they aren’t accepting plans purchased through the Exchange. In most cases, the insurance plans are confirming the providers are in the plan’s network.
We’ve heard of this happening with several plans and in several areas of the state. If you experienced one of these scenarios or something similar, please contact our consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 or file a complaint online. We regulate insurance companies and we want to make sure consumers receive the services they are entitled to in their insurance policies. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Career opportunity for a financial examiner

Do you have experience with auditing or accounting and want to work in the Olympia area? We are hiring a Financial Examiner 2 (Assistant Financial Analyst) position in our Company Supervision division at our Tumwater headquarters. Financial examiners review insurance companies' financial statements to make sure they are following state rules and laws that exist in part to make sure they remain financially solvent and able to serve Washington consumers. 
This is what the person in the job will do:
  • Examine and analyze insurance company and health carrier filings to discern financial condition, difficulties, trends, and compliance.
  • Read and interpret applicable laws, regulations, and standards to ensure analyses and examinations are appropriately conducted. 
  • Assess analysis-examination risk, materiality, and other matters by reviewing and analyzing regulated entity's history and OIC Priority Rating, biographical affidavits of its key staff, and qualifications of its management and accounting personnel, as well as current filings for the entity, prior analysis reports, and file information.
  • Prepare and complete analysis-examination procedures in accordance with accreditation standards.
  • Read and analyze the regulated entity’s filings, documents, and other information to assess the entity’s financial condition, statement assertions, and compliance with insurance laws, regulations, and standards.
  • Prepare analysis-examination reports for assigned regulated entities, including updating the risk assessment, profile summary, and supervisory plan.
  • Write correspondence to regulated entity personnel to obtain documents and information and to explain determinations.
  • Analyze Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) issuers' and other auxiliary lines entities' Annual Reports and accompanying additional documentation, audited financial statements, and IRS Form 990s (if applicable) for statutory compliance.
  • Other duties as assigned. 
We will start reviewing applications on May 2. Read more about the job and how to apply.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Kreidler remembers former State Auditor Bob Graham

Former Washington State Auditor Bob Graham passed away this week at the age of 93. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler got to know Graham after he was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1976. At that point, Graham had been state auditor for 12 years.

“Bob was highly respected and dedicated to public service,” said Kreidler. “I always enjoyed interacting with him. He was a real gentleman and a professional. I give my condolences to Bob’s wife Lloydine and his children.”
Graham was state auditor for 28 years, from 1965 until 1993.  Read more about Graham’s life and service on the Secretary of State’s blog and The Olympian 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kreidler, other insurance commissioners meet with President Obama this morning

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler had an experience this morning that few people get--an hour with the President of the United States at the White House.

Kreidler shared that time with 43 other state insurance commissioners, whom the White House invited on short notice to discuss the progress of and the challenges ahead for the Affordable Care Act. The legislation is often referred to as President Barack Obama’s “signature” achievement during his tenure.

Vice President Joe Biden and key members of the White House staff also joined the discussion.

"It was a remarkable experience to spend an hour with the leader of the free world," Kreidler said. “The president was fully engaged.”

Key topics for the hourlong discussion were potential premiums for 2015, the adequacy of medical provider networks and changes at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees many of the national regulations of the Affordable Care Act. The agency is undergoing a change in leadership with the departure of former Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Kreidler said the president was scheduled to talk with representatives of the insurance industry in an afternoon meeting.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) shared details about the visit in a news release and also posted a photo from the nation's capital of the insurance commissioners who participated.

This morning, we shared a photo of Kreidler in front of the White House as our inaugural Instagram post.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wildfire season starts today

Today is the official start of wildfire season in Washington state (hat tip to Tom Banse with KUOW). While forecasters expect a “normal” fire season, it’s a good idea for people who live in areas prone to or near areas that are prone to wildfires to take some precautionary steps.

Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Natural Resources
  • If you live in an area that could be near a wildfire, you should catalog your home’s belongings in case you need to make an insurance claim. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has a printable home inventory checklist or you can try free iPhone/iPad or Android apps.
  • Check your policy to make sure damage from wildfires is covered. Some policies include some coverage for emergency shelter, such as a hotel, if a home is uninhabitable.
  • If you live in an area that’s prone to wildfires, read some tips to prepare and protect your home.
  • Review your policy to make sure you have enough coverage. Things like fine art, jewelry and computer equipment may have limited coverage under a standard policy. But you can buy special coverage that gives you more protection for those types of items, called a rider. Contact your insurance agent or broker to ask about supplemental policies.
  • You can help protect a rural home and limit the danger by clearing a natural fire break between your home and surrounding trees, brush and uncut fields. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has information on how to protect yourself and your home before, during and even after a wildfire.
  • Have an emergency kit and a family communication plan. Know the location of your valuable papers, including insurance policy and contact information, mementos and anything you can't live without, so you can evacuate with them, if needed.
  • Here's a list of recommended emergency supplies to keep on hand in the case of an evacuation.
  • Don’t forget about planning for your pets. has tips for pet owners.
The Washington Department of Natural Resources has the most recent fire information available on its website and through the @waDNR_fire Twitter feed.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Planning for retirement: What is an annuity?

This week is National Plan for Retirement Week. Some people use annuities as part of a retirement strategy because they can provide a steady income after retirement, but they can be confusing.

Annuity basics
An annuity is a contract in which an insurance company agrees to make a series of payments in return for a premium (or premiums) that you have paid. Many consumers buy annuities to have a regular income after they retire. An annuity is an investment and shouldn’t be used to reach a short-term financial goal.

How annuities work
  • You pay either one premium or make payments for a set period of time in exchange for future income.
  • Annuities should increase in value over time and income taxes are deferred until you withdraw dividends. People who withdraw money before age age 59½ can be subject to a 10 percent income tax penalty
  • You can request to receive payments in a lump sum or in periodic fixed amounts.
  • A popular payout option is "lifetime income with 10 years certain." This means the annuity pays a monthly income for the life of the annuitant or for 10 years, whichever is longer.
  • Annuities also pay a death benefit.
There are three types of annuities:
  • Fixed annuities: Your money - minus any applicable charges - earns interest at rates set by the insurer, as specified in the annuity contract.
  • Variable annuities: The insurer invests your money - minus any applicable charges - in a separate account. The company invests your money in stocks, bonds or other investment funds you choose, based upon how much you're willing to risk. If the fund doesn't do well, you may lose some or all of your investment.
  • Equity-indexed annuities: The insurer offers a guaranteed minimum return, plus it offers a variable rate based on the return of a specific index. During the accumulation period, the insurer credits you with a return based on interest earned plus or minus changes in the index, subject to participation rates, caps, charges and other restrictions. The most commonly used index is Standard & Poor’s 500 Composite Stock Price Index (S&P 500).
Buying an annuity
Washington state law requires applicants to undergo a suitability analysis before the sale or replacement of any annuity. The analysis includes an evaluation of your financial position, income needs and the cost of liquidating any assets. This can help you determine which annuity is right for you.

As with other major purchases, it’s a good idea to shop around and compare information for similar products from several companies. While you do your research, keep detailed records and get all quotes and key information in writing.

When you are ready to purchase an annuity, carefully review the contract with your agent or broker. Ask for an explanation of anything you don’t understand. Be sure you are aware of all of the terms and conditions such as surrender charges and/or cancellation penalties.

Washington state has a 10-day “free look” period. Washington consumers have 10 days after purchasing an annuity to cancel for a full refund.

Protect yourself
Some insurance agents or brokers use inappropriate sales practices in an attempt to take advantage of uninformed consumers. Red flags include relentless sales pitches that pressure you into buying a product quickly or a deal that seems too good to be true.

The best way to protect yourself is to research the agent and company you’re considering,
More information

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Thank you to our SHIBA volunteers!

In honor of National Volunteer Week, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler recognizes more than 400 people across Washington who volunteer their time and effort to help people access health care.

Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) provide free, unbiased counseling and outreach about Medicare and other health care choices. In 2013, SHIBA volunteers contributed nearly 86,000 hours to helping more than 54,000 citizens, representing $2 million in labor costs.

"During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the accomplishments of our dedicated volunteers and we recognize their contributions to their communities,” said Kreidler. “Volunteers are an invaluable resource and we appreciate their dedication and support.”

You can find a SHIBA office near you or learn about becoming a SHIBA volunteer.
SHIBA volunteers help sign up people for Medicare this year.

Monday, April 7, 2014

OIC website redesigned for insurers, producers

Today, the Insurance Commissioner launched a redesigned industry user section of our website, the final phase in our website redesign that started in January 2013.

Two new sections—one for producers and one for insurers—enable visitors to navigate more quickly and easily to the information they need. We also improved navigation on mobile devices, updated the Producers and Insurers homepages, and converted our laws and rules page to an A-to-Z format. We worked with industry professionals to help us determine ways to make the site more usable and easy to navigate.

If you have bookmarks to pages that used to be available under the Industry Professionals tab, please update them with links to our new site.

We invite producers and insurers to submit feedback about our redesigned website

View the site at

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How do I know if my health plan meets federal requirements?

More than half a million people enrolled for coverage through our state’s exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder, before the 2014 enrollment ended (for most people) on March 31. Now the question consumers are asking is whether their plans meet federal requirements and therefore exempt them from paying the tax penalty for people who lack health insurance. You can read more about the tax penalty and exemptions to it on our March 28 blog post.

The Affordable Care Act requires people to have a plan that includes “minimum essential coverage.” The following types of plans meet that requirement:
  • Employer-sponsored health insurance, including self-insured plans, COBRA and retiree plans.
  • Plans purchased in the individual market, including a qualified health plan offered by Washington Healthplanfinder, our states’ health benefit exchange.
  • Medicare Part A coverage and Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Most Medicaid coverage.
  • Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  • Certain veterans health plans administered by the Veterans Administration.
  • Most types of TRICARE coverage for member of the military.
  • Coverage provided to Peace Corps volunteers.
  • Coverage under the Nonappropriated Fund Health Benefit Program.
  • Refugee Medical Assistance supported by the U.S. Administration for Children and Families.
  • Self-funded health coverage offered to college students for plan or policy years that began on or before Dec. 31, 2014 (for later plan or policy years, sponsors of these programs may apply to HHS to be recognized as minimum essential coverage).
  • State high-risk pools for plans or policy years that began on or before Dec. 31, 2014 (for later plan or policy years, sponsors of these program may apply to HHS to be recognized as minimum essential coverage).
  • Other coverage recognized by the Secretary of HHS as minimum essential coverage.
There are circumstances that allow people to enroll in or change their health plan during 2014, called a special enrollment. Find out if you qualify for a special enrollment.

If you have questions about whether your plan meets the minimum requirements, you can contact our Consumer Advocates at 800-562-6900 or online.

Friday, March 28, 2014

What’s the “individual mandate”?

Our consumer advocates have been getting a lot of questions about the individual mandate, which is the penalty for failing to obtain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is a federal law. In Washington, the last day to enroll in a health plan is March 31, only four days away.

If you qualify for free or subsidized health care, enroll through Washington Healthplanfinder at  People qualify for help if their income is less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four in 2013). If your income exceeds that threshold, you may wish to contact an insurance broker or agent directly.

Those who qualify for Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) may continue to enroll throughout the year. There are also certain events that allow you to enroll or change your enrollment throughout the year. Read more about qualifying events.

With a few exceptions, people who do not purchase an ACA-compliant health insurance plan will pay a penalty when they file their 2014 federal income taxes. The penalty is 1 percent of your income or $95, whichever is greater. The penalty increases yearly through 2016, when the penalty will be the greater of 2.5 percent of your household income or $695 per adult and $347 per child. If you lacked coverage for part of the year, your penalty will be prorated.

There are exemptions to the penalty:
  • People who cannot afford coverage because the cost of premiums exceed 8 percent of their household income.
  • People whose household income is below the minimum threshold for filing a tax return.
  • People who are incarcerated.
  • Members of federally recognized tribes.
  • People who are eligible for care through the Indian Health Service.
  • People who live in the United States illegally.
  • People whose religious beliefs prohibit having health insurance and are recognized as such by the Social Security Administration.
  • People who belong to a health care sharing ministry.
  • People who experienced a health insurance coverage gap of fewer than three months.
  • U.S. citizens who live outside of the country for at least 330 days during a 12-month period. However, once they return to the U.S., they need to purchase health insurance within three months.
People must apply for an exemption to the individual mandate through the IRS. The IRS created a section on its website about the mandate, exemptions to it, and how to file.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Balancing consumer protection, innovation is focus of new health insurance rules

Balancing consumer protection with innovation is the focus of the new rules under consideration for new health insurance plans that will be available in 2015.

The Insurance Commissioner’s office has been working on the health insurance network rules for more than four months. The process began soon after the emergence of what are called “narrow networks.” That’s the common reference now to health plans that don’t always include the doctors and hospitals that insurance companies typically contracted with in the past before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act took effect this year.

While still providing access to a full range of medical providers, health insurers have said they have not contracted with some traditional doctors and hospitals because of the higher rates they charge for some services. It’s a key way that insurers have said they can keep premiums lower for consumers and still maintain comparable quality care – especially considering the often wide discrepancies in what providers charge for the same service.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler saw early on that consumers and providers needed more guidance in developing health plans for 2015. The new rules under consideration are heavily focused on providing more transparency – answering the common question: “Is my doctor and hospital in the network of the health plan I might buy?”

“Consumers have a right to know,” Commissioner Kreidler told the members of the Health Benefit Exchange at its monthly public meeting March 27. “It’s my job to ensure that consumers can access the care they need and that insurers live up to their promises.”

That hasn’t been as clear as it should have been through plans offered this year. The new rules are designed to give consumers more information on which to make choices in 2015.
The commissioner has heard from a wide range of interested parties, including insurance companies, doctors, consumer advocates, Indian tribes and more.

A public hearing on the rules is scheduled for April 22 in Olympia. They are set to take effect May 1, about the same time that insurers will begin proposing new plans. Considerable flexibility is built into the new rules to make sure that health plans for 2015 are given time to comply. The fact is, health insurers have been involved in the process for months. And much of what’s being asked for in the rules is already required.

The new rules are simply providing a formal and clearer roadmap for all to follow on behalf of consumers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

If I have a child care business in my home, can my insurer cancel my homeowner policy?

An insurer cannot decline to issue a homeowner policy, cancel or fail to renew a homeowner policy for the sole reason that the customer operates a home-based child care, in accordance with state rules (WAC 284-30-700). However, insurers may exclude liability coverage for any liability that arises related to the child care business. People in Washington who operate home-based child care businesses should talk to an insurance agent or broker about seeking a separate business liability policy to insure themselves and their business in the event of a liability issue. Find a licensed agent or broker.

People who care for children in their homes typically require a license from the Department of Early Learning. Read more on DEL’s website.

People who run other home-based businesses should contact their insurance agent to find out what types of coverage they may need.

Read more about insurance and home-based businesses.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Join the Insurance Commissioner’s consumer protection team!

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is recruiting to fill a Functional Program Analyst 3 position in the Consumer Protection Division at our Tumwater headquarters. This position supports our mission by advocating on behalf of consumers to ensure fair treatment by insurance companies and by educating the public on insurance matters.

The position researches and resolves consumer complaints involving health, life, annuity & disability (L&D) insurance and licensed carriers and responds to consumer inquiries regarding L&D insurance issues, including questions involving federal health care reform. This position staffs our consumer hotline four hours per day and spends the remaining time researching and resolving consumer complaints and then following up with consumers. Our consumer protection staff work with consumers and insurance professionals and also work heavily in our database, with some website content responsibilities.

In 2013, we received more than 5,000 consumer complaints and recovered more than $8 million related to insurance billings, refunds and various claim-handling issues.

Read more about this position or apply. This job closes on April 6.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Important information about landslide insurance

Gov. Jay Inslee has declared a state of emergency in Snohomish County after a large landslide hit the town of Oso on March 22. Tragically, at least eight lives were lost and several people were injured. Searches underway for more than 100 people who are still missing. The Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s thoughts are with the families, emergency responders and communities affected by the landslide.

In addition to the human toll, the slide destroyed at least 30 homes and 20 other structures, and caused a backup in the Stillaguamish River, sparking concerns about flooding. The landslide destroyed an area of at least one square mile, including Highway 230 and parts of neighboring Darrington. FEMA announced today it will assist with the landslide response.

People who lost or suffered damage to property as a result of the landslide can contact the Insurance Commissioner’s consumer advocates with questions about their options at 800-562-6900 or online.

In general, homeowner policies do not cover landslides or land movements caused by rain runoff. That type of coverage would be covered by a separate policy. If you think you purchased such a policy—or you would like to–contact your insurance agent or broker.

Read more information about homeowner insurance and landslides.

Gov. Inslee has a webpage with information about the landslide and the state Emergency Management Division has a page with updates and resources.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Be on the lookout for Medicare red flags

The Insurance Commissioner’s SHIBA program has received reports that some Washington Medicare subscribers are receiving calls from a person claiming they’re selling Medicare Supplement (Medigap) insurance. Medigap plans are sold by insurance companies and fill the gaps that Medicare parts A and B don’t cover, like copayments, coinsurance and deductibles.

The reports are that a solicitor is cold-calling consumers and setting up an appointment to come to consumers’ homes to talk about Medigap coverage and costs. When the solicitor schedules the appointment, they ask for personal information, including Social Security numbers and consumers’ home addresses. A company representative shows up for the appointment without any identification or proof they represent the insurance company; during the meeting they ask consumers for money to buy additional coverage.

Whenever a salesperson calls you unsolicited, you should proceed with caution. Consumers should never give personal information over the phone, including Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, credit card numbers, or anything that could be used to defraud you or steal your identity.

It’s also a good idea for consumers to find out if an agent is licensed to sell insurance in our state before meeting with them or giving them money. Consumers can also call the Insurance Commissioner’s consumer advocates at 1-800-562-6900 to verify someone is licensed to sell insurance in Washington or to report suspected Medicare or insurance fraud.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Do you still need health insurance? Open enrollment ends March 31

Open enrollment for health insurance for this calendar year ends in less than two weeks. If you do not have a qualified health plan, you will be subject to a tax penalty when you file your 2014 taxes. The penalty for the first year is up to $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater.

  • To be covered starting April 1, you must apply, select and pay for a health plan by 5 p.m. on March 23.
  • To be covered starting May 1, you must apply, select and pay for a health plan by 11:59 p.m. on March 31.

Those who qualify for Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) may continue to enroll throughout the year. There are also certain events that allow you to enroll or change your enrollment throughout the year. Read more about qualifying events.

If you qualify for free or subsidized health care, enroll through Washington Healthplanfinder at  People qualify for help if their income is less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a family of four in 2013). If your income exceeds that threshold, you may wish to contact an insurance broker or agent directly.

Open enrollment for 2015 starts Nov. 15, 2014 and ends Feb. 15, 2015.  


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Special Investigations Unit hiring an Administrative Assistant

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is hiring a full-time, permanent Administrative Assistant 4 in our Special Investigations Unit (SIU), located in Tumwater. SIU investigates insurance fraud in Washington state and has the authority to conduct criminal investigations, arrest suspects and submit fraud cases to prosecutors. The unit works with federal, state and local law enforcement; insurance companies' investigators; and regulatory agencies. Read more about SIU's work.

This position is the principle administrative support for the SIU Director and works closely with a staff of seven criminal analysts and detectives to support of the unit’s mission to combat criminal insurance fraud.

Duties include:

  • Providing administrative support to the Director and the Special Investigations Unit.
  • Scheduling meetings, preparing agendas and taking meeting minutes.
  • Transcribing interviews.
  • Preparing spreadsheets, charts and graphs.
  • Managing and directing incoming assignments; monitoring deadlines and projects.
  • Coordinating travel for division employees.
  • Correspondence with citizens, stakeholders and partners.
  • Records retention and gathering records requested under the Public Records Act. 
  • Providing administrative support to various stakeholder groups, including the SIU Advisory Board, and other internal and external groups.

Applicants must be able to pass a fingerprint-based background check and must maintain confidentiality about criminal investigations.

The job closes on March 31. View the full job posting and application instructions

View all of the jobs that are currently open at OIC.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Do some leg work before you purchase an auto warranty

We receive a number of complaints from consumers regarding auto warranties, warranty premium refund guarantees, and loan gap waivers sold by car dealerships. Unfortunately, we get the calls after consumers encounter a problem with the warranty they purchased.

Generally these types of products are offered at the time of the vehicle’s sale and consumers may feel pressured to buy these types of warranties without really understanding what they are getting. The cost of these types of warranties is often added to the loan amount, which increases the amount you borrow, your monthly payment and the warranty price because you interest on it over the life of the loan.

While we are not finance experts, we do recommend that consumers contact their insurance agent or our consumer advocates before deciding to buy these products. Consumers can call or email us to discuss the product; consumers can see whether or the warranties are properly registered to sell plans in Washington by searching our company or agent lookup.

Remember, you have 10 days under state law to revoke your purchase of any warranty and receive a full refund. After 30 days, the company may prorate your refund.

Many consumers don’t know that you can request your insurance agent add a debt waiver or loan balance payoff coverage to your insurance policy when you buy a new car. This type of insurance protects you if your car is “totaled” (called a “total loss” by your insurer) and you owe more than its current market value. If you are in the market for a vehicle, it’s always a good to discuss your insurance options with your agent before you buy anything.

Read more about auto insurance.

Read more about warranties and service contracts.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Truth is stranger than fiction -- these life insurance questions prove it

Life insurance can be confusing under the best circumstances. Our Consumer Advocates shared some questions they’ve received about life insurance benefits under unusual circumstances:

My ex-husband died and the life insurance company won’t give me the money, even though I’m still listed as the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. Can they do this?

Yes, they can. In fact, state law requires it. Under Washington probate law, divorce automatically cancels an ex-spouse’s standing as beneficiary on a life insurance policy. What if someone still wants their ex-spouse to be the beneficiary after the divorce? After the divorce is final, they should fill out and submit a new beneficiary form listing the ex-spouse (again) as beneficiary.

I’m in the midst of a divorce and I want to remove my soon-to-be ex-spouse as the beneficiary on my life insurance policy. Do I need to wait until the divorce is final?

The answer to this depends on a few things.

Does it look like the divorce decree will list this life insurance policy as one of the marital assets? If so, you should wait until the divorce is final, because the divorce decree might dictate what you can do with the policy. If you’re sure the divorce decree won’t list this life insurance policy as a marital asset, you could remove your wife as beneficiary for up to 50 percent of the policy.

While the marriage is still in effect, though, state community property laws make people list their spouse as beneficiary for 50 percent of the policy unless the spouse agrees in writing to do otherwise. The moment a divorce becomes final, state probate law automatically cancels the ex-spouse as beneficiary on the policy. As a result, even if you never remove your ex-spouse as the beneficiary, the insurance company won’t give your ex the life insurance money.

For obvious reasons, though, most people choose to fill out a new beneficiary form after a divorce is final.

I briefly dated someone and after we broke up, she told people that she bought a life insurance policy for me while we were still together. Is that even possible?

As odd as this may sound, we hear this question regularly. The answer: It’s unlikely that someone could buy a life insurance policy on your behalf without your knowledge and consent. Washington state law says that people need to have an “insurable interest” before they can buy a policy on someone’s life, and only a close relative such as a spouse or parent would meet this standard.

Also, before selling a life insurance policy, most insurance companies send a representative to meet you, check your identification and take a sample of your blood for testing.

If you are genuinely concerned in a situation like this and fear for your safety – something we’ve heard from many consumers – we advise you to contact your local police department.

Find more information about life insurance on our website.

Monday, March 10, 2014

OIC expands online services through NIPR

The OIC has expanded the types of applications we can accept online through our partnership with the National Insurance Producer Registry (NIPR) to new and renewing insurance licenses for: 

  • Washington resident insurance producers (full lines only) 
  • Washington surplus lines brokers 
  • Out-of-state surplus lines brokers

Through our partnership with NIPR, an applicant or licensee can submit multiple applications or renewals to more than one state simultaneously. In today’s marketplace, many insurance professionals hold licenses in multiple states. View a list of applications that may be submitted to OIC through NIPR.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Protect your identity to prevent Medicare fraud

During National Consumer Protection Week, OIC is offering tips to help protect insurance consumers in Washington.

Medicare is the national health care plan for all U.S. citizens age 65 and older. It also covers people younger than age 65 who receive Social Security Disability Income and people diagnosed with specific conditions.

Medicare is a $585 billion program with approximately 48 million enrollees. That number will grow as more baby boomers become eligible for Medicare. Medicare fraud can be hard to track, but some estimate that Medicare fraud accounts for up to 10 percent of its annual budget.

We all pay a price for Medicare fraud, waste and abuse, which contributes significantly to rising health care costs. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • Check your monthly statement for services or equipment you didn’t receive or for prices that seem higher than you expect or were told.
  • Never give your Medicare number (which is your Social Security number) in exchange for “free” testing, screening, products or services. Never give your Medicare number to anyone who calls or solicits you. Medicare will never call you.
  • A medical provider should never charge you for billing Medicare on your behalf or for filling out forms.
  • Medical providers should never who waive your coinsurance or deductible.

View more Medicare fraud tips on our website.

If you suspect Medicare fraud or have questions about your bill, call OIC’s Statewide Health Benefits Insurance Advisors (SHIBA) at 1-800-562-6900 or contact a local SHIBA office.

SHIBA also holds Medicare fraud prevention workshops throughout the state

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Are you covered for flood damage? The answer may surprise you

This month has been the soggiest March on record in the Seattle area, according to the Associated Press, and some areas of the state are experiencing heavy rain that may cause flooding today and tomorrow. Here are some things that are good to know about floods and insurance:

  • Homeowner policies typically do not cover flood damage. Flood damage is not on standard homeowner policies and most commercial policies, although many people assume it is. That can be a costly assumption. Your mortgage lender may require you to have flood insurance if your home is located in a flood-prone area, also known as a "special flood hazard area." You can estimate your property's flood risk online.
  • Most people buy flood insurance through the government’s National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). These policies are sold through local insurance agents and brokers, which you can locate online. As with most policies, there are limits to what is covered.
  • Flood insurance rates are in flux. In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which changed the way the National Flood Insurance Program is run. Among those changes were premium rate increases to make the program more financially stable. However, a new bill is being heard in Congress that would slow the premium increases for certain policyholders. That bill, call Grimm-Waters, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on March 4.
  • If your vehicle is damaged in a flood, your auto policy’s comprehensive coverage typically will cover it. However, you should verify you have that type of coverage with your insurance agent or broker. Read more about auto insurance.

You can read more about flood insurance on OIC’s website. 

OIC’s SHIBA can help consumers find health benefits

During National Consumer Protection Week, OIC is offering tips to help protect insurance consumers in Washington.

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner oversees Washington’s Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA). SHIBA offers free, unbiased and confidential assistance with Medicare and other health care choices.

SHIBA can help you:

  • Understand your health care coverage options and rights.
  • Determine your general eligibility for health care coverage programs.
  • Evaluate and compare health insurance plans.

In 2013, our 570 SHIBA volunteer advisors helped 54,000 people understand their health insurance. Advisors are available in communities throughout the state;.

For people who are about to turn or recently turned 65, we host Medicare events around the state. You can also find information about Medicare on our website. 

Are you interested in becoming a SHIBA volunteer? Find out more.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Important tips for insurance consumers

Editor's note: During National Consumer Protection Week, OIC is offering tips to help protect insurance consumers in Washington.

Today, we are sharing tips with Washington insurance consumers based on questions and complaints we’ve received over the years. These tips are general and are intended to help you avoid common insurance pitfalls.

  • If you are having a problem with your insurance company or agent that you can’t get resolved, we recommend that you call us about it as soon as you are having the problem. We do get calls from people who wait years (yes, years) before they call us. By that time, it’s very hard to untangle the issues. We will try, but it’s significantly more difficult. Contact us at 1-800-562-6900 or on our website. The sooner you contact us, the sooner we can determine how we might be able to help.
  • Do an annual review of your policies and what possessions you are covering. A lot can happen in 12 months—did you remodel your home? Buy a car? Sell a car? Buy a boat? Have a birthday? Any of these things could affect your insurance premium. For homeowner or renter insurance policies, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has a home inventory checklist available as a PDF or as an app.
  • Many people have their auto and home policies with the same insurer. However, many do not. If you change address or have any other issue that might involve both policies, be sure to contact both insurers to discuss your situation and make any needed changes to policies.

It’s important to be an informed consumer, and we are here to help. OIC’s website has a wealth of information about auto, home, health and life insurance for Washington consumers at Our consumer site is tablet- and mobile-friendly.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Consumers have rights to appeal claim denials

Editor's note: During National Consumer Protection Week, OIC is offering tips to help protect insurance consumers in Washington.

Sometimes, insurance companies deny claims for reasons that vary as widely as there are claims. Here is some information about insurance claim denials and your appeal rights.

Health insurance

Most health plans are required to comply with a very specific appeal process. However, this requirement doesn’t apply to some health plans, such as Medicare or Apple Health (Medicaid) plans.

Other types of insurance, such as long-term care or disability insurance, are required to provide an appeal process but can create their own process.

If you want to file an appeal with your health plan, contact them and ask: “What do I need to do to file an appeal?” After that, you’ll need to collect materials that support your appeal, such as:

  • The health problems that can or will arise if the company doesn’t pay for this treatment, plus an estimate of the cost of treating those problems.
  • Any medical journal articles or studies that show the treatment’s effectiveness.
  • Letters from your doctors describing why you need this treatment.

After you send your appeal materials to the health plan, be persistent. Most people don’t win at the first level of appeal, but the odds of winning increase as you reach higher levels of appeals. The chance of winning is highest when your health plan appeal reaches the final level, called an “Independent Review Organization.”

For more tips, please visit the appeals section of our website.

Property and casualty insurance

With property and casualty insurance—such as homeowner, renter and auto insurance—consumers generally can use the appraisal provision of their auto or home policy or the arbitration provision for personal injury protection (PIP) and under- or uninsured motorist (UIM) claims on auto policies. Appraisal provisions are used for disputes of claim value, and arbitration provisions are generally used when the application or availability of coverage is being questioned.

More information

Monday, March 3, 2014

March 2-8 is National Consumer Protection Week

You may have seen that this week is National Consumer Protection Week. The Washington state Insurance Commissioner has an entire unit devoted to helping consumers who experience trouble with their insurance policies or companies. In 2013, we responded to more than 5,000 inquiries from consumers and helped recover $8.4 million in insurance billings, refunds and other claims-related issues.

Our consumer advocates can help:

We also share information of interest to insurance consumers on this blog and through our social media channels. Many of our posts are generated by questions our consumer advocates receive from Washington citizens. Consumers can reach us by phone at 1-800-562-6900 and online via our web form. Read more about consumer advocacy at OIC.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What if I need to see a provider that's not in my health plan's network?

Many of  the health plans for sale in Washington's new Exchange - Wahealthplanfinder - have narrower provider networks. This trend helps keeps premiums down, but it can be confusing and upsetting to consumers who are used to seeing certain providers.

If you don't qualify for a subsidy and you want a broader selection of providers, you may want to consider buying a health plan outside of the Exchange. You can do so by contacting a health insurer directly or an insurance agent can help you. Here's a list of all plans available inside and outside the Exchange by county. Make sure you check the plan's provider directory before you sign up.

Consider these tips on network issues to consider before signing up for coverage.

If you need medical care that cannot be provided by a provider or facility in your plan's network, your health plan must allow you to see the out-of-network provider network at no greater cost than if they were a contracted provider. Read more about your rights to see certain providers.

If you believe you're being treated unfairly by your insurance company, file a complaint with us - we'll look into if for you and make sure your health plan is following the rules.

Want to get more involved? We're currently working on new rules about provider networks. One of the goals is to increase transparency - so you know which providers are covered by your plan and how to access care you need, if they're not. Join our listsev to get updates on this new rule.

Want to work at OIC? We are hiring!

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner has three positions open in its Tumwater office. All are open until filled.

  • Financial Examiner 4 (Senior Financial Analyst) to examine and analyze insurance companies and health carrier filings to discern financial condition, difficulties, trends and compliance. This position also supervises three financial examiners in our Company Supervision division. 
  • Investigator 4 (Supervisor) to investigate complaints against insurance companies, agents and brokers. This position also supervises seven investigators in our Legal Affairs division. 
  • Human Resource Consultant Assistant 2 to help with all things human resources, including working in the state’s Human Resources Management (HRMS) system.

OIC is a small state agency – just over 200 employees statewide – and our mission is to protect consumers, the public interest, and our state’s economy through fair and efficient regulation of the insurance industry. Read more about our agency on our website.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kreidler orders insurance loan seller to stop doing business in Washington

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler issued a cease and desist order against Insurance Finance Corp., headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. The company has been illegally financing insurance premiums in Washington and charging consumers more than allowed under state law.

Essentially, Insurance Finance Corp. sells loans to people who purchase insurance and can’t or don’t want to pay the full premium up front. This type of loan is typically sought by people who purchase commercial insurance policies. Individual policies, including homeowner, renter and auto insurance, typically allow consumers to pay a monthly premium rather than making large yearly or twice-yearly payments.

Kreidler ordered Insurance Finance Corp. to stop doing business in Washington because it violated two state laws – it’s not licensed to do business in Washington and it is overcharging Washington customers. State law limits service charges to $10 per $100,000 per year, and a one-time acquisition charge of $10 per loan.

We identified 429 Washington customers who have purchased loans totaling more than $630,000 from August 2010 through July 2013. However, there could be more customers that we have not identified. We are unable to determine the total amount of overcharges to Washington customers until we can identify all of its customers and loans. Customers may have been referred to the firm by insurance brokers and agents. Washington insurance agents and brokers can help by not referring clients to Insurance Finance Corp. while the cease and desist order is in place.

Insurance Finance Corp. has 90 days to appeal the cease and desist order.

Anyone who sells insurance or insurance products to people in Washington must be licensed by OIC. You can look up a company’s licensing status and see if a company has complaints on our website.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hearing Feb. 25 on consolidation of Western United Life Assurance company

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is holding a hearing at noon on Feb. 25 to consider a consolidation request from Western United Life Assurance Company in Spokane.

This request involves two entities--Investors Consolidated Insurance Co., a New Hampshire-based company, and Western United Life Assurance Co., both subsidiaries of Central United Life Insurance Company and Harris Insurance Holdings, Inc. in Houston. 
Investors Consolidated wants to change its domicile—base of operations—to Spokane from New Hampshire. Immediately thereafter, Investors Consolidated and Western United Life, which is already based in Spokane, want to merge and retain the corporate name of Western United Life Assurance Co.

Anyone who is interested in weighing in on the relocation and merger may submit comments and may also attend the hearing in person or by telephone.
Hearing location:

Office of the Insurance Commissioner5000 Capitol Blvd.Tumwater, WA 98501
To participate by phone, call (877) 668-4493, followed by access code 231 993 38.

Submit comments to:
For more information:
View the Notice of Hearing, which includes advice on how to participate in the hearing process.
View all documents filed in this matter under Western United Life #14-0004.

Friday, February 14, 2014

After you put a ring on it, think about insurance changes

Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day and it’s a popular time of year to pop the question or get married. If you are a taking the plunge soon, here are some insurance matters you will need to address.

Jewelry rider

The first step in getting engaged is typically purchasing an engagement ring. The average cost of an engagement ring this year is nearly $3,500—does your homeowner or renter insurance policy cover the cost of replacing engagement and wedding rings that may exceed $5,000 for both bride and groom? If not, you may be able to purchase a jewelry rider, which is a supplemental policy that covers jewelry that has a value that exceeds the standard policy. Many riders require an appraisal or documentation that may come with your new jewelry purchase.

Homeowner or renter insurance

Combining households also means combining your belongings. Make an inventory of all of your belongings—including wedding gifts -- to determine how much coverage you'll need. It will also make filing a claim easier in the event of a loss or disaster. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers a free home inventory app for iPhones and Android phones; you can also download a PDF version. High-value items like artwork, collectables or jewelry may need a personal property rider in addition to your homeowners policy.

If you are moving into a new residence, remember that its location, size of the home and construction type are factors that determine your insurance premium.

Don't immediately cancel a policy on a residence that you are vacating. There is a higher risk of unforeseen damage, such as burst water pipes, fire or theft that can be costly to remedy without the insurance coverage. Ask your insurance agent about a supplemental endorsement that will provide coverage on the home if it is vacant for an extended period of time.

Auto insurance

Married couples have the option of combining their auto insurance policies, but most newlyweds don't discuss their spouse's driving record before getting married. A poor driving record could increase the cost of your premiums. If that affects you, talk to your insurance agent about a named driver exclusion. Other factors that affect your premium are make, model and age of the vehicle.

As a newlywed, you may be eligible for discounts. Some insurance companies consider married couples a lower risk, which could result in lower rates. You may be eligible for discounts if you combine your auto policies or buy auto coverage from the same company that carries your homeowner or renter policies.

Health insurance

When deciding what to do about your health insurance, evaluate your current and future health care needs. You will also want to compare the cost of adding your spouse to your policy against keeping your own health insurance.

If you have health insurance through an employer, you are allowed to add your spouse to your plan outside of the open enrollment period. Contact your company's benefits administrator to find out what you need to do.

For individual plans, contact your insurance agent or company for specific enrollment requirements for spouses. Insurance companies are no longer allowed to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, nor can they charge more based on medical history. You will need your spouse's Social Security number and income information to add him/her to your plan.

Life insurance

It's never easy to talk about life insurance, especially during such a happy time, but it may help secure your family's financial future. To calculate your needs, consider future income, the cost of raising children and any large outstanding debts such as school loans or mortgage payments. If either or both of you have life insurance, check with your agent about updating your beneficiary information. Remember to check with your employer about any life insurance benefits offered through work.

More information

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Consumer question: Don’t my agent and insurance company have to make sure I’m getting their best rates and coverage?

Although you’d think that would be a good way to keep you as a customer, the answer is “no.” The best time to ask about the most cost-effective coverage is at the time of application. It’s always good to ask your agent to offer multiple options for the type of coverage you are looking for.

You can always ask questions about your rates and coverage during the policy period and you are free to change insurers anytime you wish to. Choosing insurance is not like choosing a cell phone plan, where they lock you in for two years.

Generally speaking, you want to be the one asking questions about how to save money or improve coverage on your insurance policies. Most insurers are not going to offer up ways for you to save money once you’ve bought a policy. Think of it this way: You are the custodian of your policies, and it’s up to you to be aware of what they cover and to ask questions when you need clarification and help. You also have the freedom to find other coverage.

Remember, if you feel like your insurance company is not doing its job, you can call our consumer experts at 800-562-6900 or file a complaint online.

It's always a good idea to make sure your insurance agent or broker is licensed to sell insurance in Washington.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Looking for car insurance? You may want to avoid buying in March

A study released in late January showed that, nationally, car insurance policies purchased in December were 8 percent cheaper than polices that were purchased in March, the most expensive month. The yearlong study, conducted by, couldn’t pinpoint a cause for the variance. However, the report did note that rate increases and inflation adjustments often take effect in January.

Furthermore, rates varied widely by state. In Washington, rates varied 14.1 percent from the highest month—March--to the lowest month, which was not specified. The average monthly cost in the Evergreen State is $94, compared to $99 per month nationally. The biggest fluctuation was in Hawaii, where rates were 48 percent lower in December than they were in March.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) said many factors could be at play, including weather patterns, risks and costs that differ by state and even zip codes within a state, and changes in state law that may affect rates.

Read more: